- by Dr. Liz Hale
With few exceptions, all of us want to feel good about who we are, take pride in our work, and gain the approval of those who matter most to us. Life is sweeter when our worth and value are validated. But what makes a person love himself above anything or anyone else? What makes self-absorption so important that they become blind to their deleterious effects on other people, and uncompromising, inflexible and even manipulative and abusive?
Narcissism comes from a tale in Greek mythology that describes a handsome youth, Narcissus, who, one day, while stopping to drink from a forest pool, catches a glimpse of his reflection in the smooth water. Smitten by his sight, he falls madly in love with his own beautiful image. He lies next to the pond, staring at his own reflection in the water. But whenever he reaches into the water and tries to embrace the image, it dissolves. Unable to kiss hold or anyway capture his true heart’s desire, he dies of unrequited love.
The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) is the most widely used measure of narcissism in social psychological research. Although several versions of the NPI have been proposed in the literature, a 40-item forced- choice version (Raskin & Terry, 1988) is the one most commonly employed in current research. The NPI is often said to measure “normal” or “subclinical” (borderline) narcissism (i.e., in people who score very high on the NPI do not necessarily meet criteria for diagnosis with NPD). However, research has found that people who score high on the NPI are more likely to cheat in game-play and romantic relationships, take more resources for themselves and leave fewer resources for others, value material things and be obsessively concerned with their outer appearance.
The 7 factors of the NPI that are roughly scored are the following: (We can discuss on-air how some of these traits are to be expected with self-starters, people in the media, politicians, etc. I scored 23; Darin, what about you?)
Reflections and Recognitions of Narcissism
Healthy Self-Esteem vs. Narcissism
Think of someone in your life who exudes an abundance of self-worth and ask, “In what ways do you think you need to grow or change?” If the person is psychologically healthy, the list will be long. Self-wroth is based on truth and reality not pretense. Healthy people know they are always a work in progress. Narcissists, on the other hand, will tell you they have no changes to make. Although people with narcissism live in anguish, they refuse to admit that their own behavior has anything to do with their discontent.
Unconditional Love vs. Conditional Love
To maintain a relationship with narcissists, it’s imperative to remember they generally detest themselves on some level. They have fully incorporated the values of some highly judgmental social system, albeit a family, community or even religion, where love was given or withheld depending on external criteria. (“If you are beautiful, thin, talented and athletic, you’re loved; if you’re not, forget it!”) People who are socialized to believe that their worth is based on their performance become addicted to perfectionism the way drug addicts become hooked on their intoxicants. They crave praise because it is the closest they ever get to feeling unconditionally love.
When parents, especially, are consistently attentive, regardless of mistakes and poor choices, a child internalizes the message that he or she is a person worth loving. They learn that they do not have to earn or demand their parents’ affection, nor do they have to manipulate them to get it. When we know we will always be accepted, we don’t mind admitting our limitations or imperfections.
Enjoyable Interconnection vs. Invisible Emptiness
Think of someone who has a seemingly abundant sense of self-satisfaction. Now think about the way you feel after an interaction with this person. If you feel warm, nourished and valued, youÃ¢â?¬Ë?ve probably encountered someone with a healthy self-concept. If, on the other hand, the conversation leaves you feeling ashamed, confused, self-doubting or invisible, break out the caution sign. You may be dealing with someone who has enough narcissistic traits that a close relationship may make it impossible to achieve if this person is unwilling to recognize their debilitating vulnerabilities.
Heartfelt Empathy vs. Disdain & Disregard
Parents, understandably, see their children as the center of the universe. However, excessive attention can make a child perceive the world as existing only for their benefit. If a child is never made to wait or told “no,” they never learn how to adjust for others or learn to self-sooth. Children who are always rescued when disagreeing with others never learn compromise. Children who are not shown how they hurt others never get to practice empathy.
In Narcissism, there is a overvaluing and undervaluing of others. It is so easy to say, “Well, I would never be unempathic towards those who are hurting,”Ã¢â?¬Â¦Ã¢â?¬Â¦yet, we are sometimes. You don’t have to look far to recognize our lack of empathy with Hollywood celebrities. We have become preoccupied with exalting them when they’re up and kicking them when they’re down, just like the old Don Henley song. Many of us, not just the press and the paparazzi, have harshly criticized Britney Spears or more recently Kim Kardashian and her 72-day marriage. We have not always been emphatic but contemptuous as these reality starts just try to be human in the public eye. We don’t know what goes on behind what we see portrayed through the Internet, media and social networking sites. Error on the side of mercy.
Self-Disclose vs. Self-Protect
People struggling with narcisstic traits never laugh at their imperfection or mistakes because their foibles are a matter of life and death, to their sense of esteem, anyway. Practice telling others about a mistake you made in a way that’s designed to make them laugh with you. If we want to be unconditionally loved, we have to practice being the real deal so that when people choose to love us it is the real person they love; the one without the pretenses. There is nothing better than to be truthfully known and loved because of it!
Draw your children, family and friends closer through your charming, warm and beautifully imperfect self. No other substitute will do.